Japan’s School Year

The University of Tokyo's school year is dramatically different from that of most Canadian universities. The first semester begins in April and ends in August. After a two-month summer holiday, the second semester begins in October and ends in February. In this post, I’ll share some of the implications this system has for U of T students who wish to participate in a year-long exchange to Japan. 1. Summer Holidays The summer leading up to exchange is unusually long. My most recent semester at U of T ended in April 2014, after which I went home to Vancouver for the summer. I stayed there for five months, instead of the usual four, until my semester in Tokyo began in October. (I am taking my semesters here in Japan in reverse order.)
This image shows a panorama of Vancouver's skyline at dusk. Mountains are visible in the backgorund.
I was still hanging out here while U of T's undergraduates were gearing up for midterms. [source]
Meanwhile, my summer this year will be shorter than usual. Since the University of Tokyo’s school year runs until the end of July, I only have about one month's break before I go back to U of T in September. 2. Work Experience I have spent the past two summers building work experience and saving money to sustain myself during the school year, when I have less time to work. Studying in Japan complicates summer work a little bit. The longest full-time summer work terms usually begin in May and end in August, leaving prospective exchange students without much to do in September before they go on exchange. I was fortunate in that my employer last summer extended my work term until the end of September, so that I could keep myself busy and get some more money together for my year abroad. While studying abroad afforded me an extra month of work last year, it involves the opportunity cost of one summer’s worth of work this year. Since my semester ends in July, I’ll still be taking classes full-time when most Canadian employers are hiring summer students. In this way, it’s difficult for year-long exchange students in Japan to work in the summer following their exchange. However, there are a two alternative options for saving money. The first is finding part-time employment during the school year. A student visa in Japan allows exchange students to work a maximum of twenty-eight hours per week, with a few conditions. Depending on your course load, this might be a realistic option. Scholarships can also help to make up for the opportunity cost of studying abroad. 3. Time to Travel The good news is that Japan’s school year has a spring break from the end of February to the beginning of April, which is great for traveling. I’ll be leaving for Hiroshima again at the end of the week. I am also going to travel around Western Japan before heading to Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture, at the end of March.
This image shows a seaside path on Miyajima island. A red toori gate is visible in the backgorund in front of a range of forested mountains.
Miyajima, Hiroshima
These are perhaps the three most important implications that Japan's school year has for exchange students from Canadian universities. If you have any questions, comment below! I’ll be writing to you from Hiroshima next week.

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