Housing at IUC: San Serite Shinohara

I am finally back from my year of intensive Japanese language study at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies (IUC or the Center for short).  Right about now, next year’s IUC students are trying to pin down where they will live next year, so I thought I would run through my experience for everyone.

Like most people landing on this page, I searched online for information on housing in the greater Yokohama area in general, and posts by previous students, in particular.  If this happens to be one of the first pages you visit, I can suggest the group blog What Can I Do With a B.A. in Japanese Studies? They have a whole series on housing for IUC. This post, while it’s only on my site, is intended to fit in with their series. Their housing posts cover:

If you’re reading this post, I am going to assume you know something already about the Center. Housing comes in a few varieties, but can be divided into two basic categories – options students find on their own, and options that are affiliated with the Center. I am going to write about one of the Center-affiliated apartments not covered by the “What Can I Do” crew, San Serite Shinohara.

Before I moved in, San Serite seemed like it might be too far from the Center. The commute is 30 minutes by train in the morning (including walking to/from the station) and around 40 minutes in the afternoon (partially because I never bothered to time when I left the Center, so I usually ended up waiting a few minutes for the train). You can also walk it in about an hour. Considering that you end up with a relatively cheap, sizeable apartment in a lovely neighbourhood, I was quite pleased. It is on top of a hill, but that was mainly an irritant when I was moving luggage.

The neighbourhood is generally quiet and residential. However, there are three decent-sized grocery stores and a number of specialty food stands (fruit/veggies, fish, etc.) within a ten minute walk. There are also two parks, one of which is the largest I’m aware of any of us students living near. If you are the sort of person who wants to party on the weekends, you’ll have to go elsewhere to do it, but if you want a nice, quiet neighbourhood with an easy commute, a number of options to get outside (whether to play or to study), located near a bunch of other Center students, this fits the bill. You can easily walk over to hang out with friends at Myorenji, Kikuna, Shin-yokohama and a few other areas where Center students tend to land.

Living room

As for the interior, it surprised me in a good way, my roommate in a not-so-good way. Your expectations will probably dictate whether you are happy or not. Obviously the fittings are a bit used, and nothing was ever super-expensive to begin with, but it is furnished with all the necessary items (down to utensils and sheets). The landlord is a nice guy with an office on the first floor, so he is easy to get in touch with and happy to replace broken appliances. Additionally, each year’s residents make some alterations to what the apartment comes with. Consequently, I can tell you that next year’s residents are getting a new microwave courtesy of our landlord, and various nearly-new items (yoga mat, cutting board, hula hoop, throw pillows for the couch, covers for a futon, seat cushions for the dining table, et cetera) from myself. My roommate left some things as well.

Bedroom

One of the two major negatives to San Serite was shared by all of the other apartments Center students stayed in, I think. San Serite is made of tekkin concrete, which means there is absolutely zero insulation in the walls. However, we eventually figured out that the in-wall A/C units also function as energy-efficient heaters. For budgetary reasons, my roommate and I left the shared rooms unheated, but you don’t have to. The other major negative is the bathroom. The separate toilet is small, but functional. The furo, while also functional, is a bit of a mess. That said, I believe the landlord is redoing it this summer, so it most likely won’t be an issue for future residents.

Bathroom

One other thing to note about the interior. The kitchen is surprisingly large for a Japanese kitchen, but there is effectively no counter space. There isn’t an oven, either. But then, both of those negatives are standard for a Japanese kitchen.

As far as costs are concerned, the rent amounted to roughly $375 per person. Tenants get to share the landlord’s internet connection for free, but have to pay for the gas, water and electricity, which amount to around $55 per month (the electric went up to around $45/month in the winter; otherwise it was around $20-25/month). At some point, someone from NHK will show up and ask if you have a TV. If you are foolish enough to say yes, you will have to pay for that, too, to the tune of about $10/person every month or two. Finally, you’ll want a transit pass to get to school and back. That is another $100/month, for a grand total of $540. There was a commission to the realtor of roughly $200 upfront, and when we left the apartment, they kept $200 of the deposit for cleaning, but gave the rest (~$325) back.

Kitchen

Well, that was my experience with San Serite Shinohara. I had a wild year, full of interesting people, leaps in my Japanese capability and new experiences. I hope the next residents get as much out of their time in the apartment as I did.

On a more general note, the Center is tough. Everyone knows it – that’s pretty much why we all go there. The Center will push your Japanese farther than you thought it would, but it will be a hard journey. Almost all of the Center-affiliated apartments are for two people. We all bonded over annoyances like bad air circulation and small kitchen counters at the Center, but some people were bothered by trouble with their roommates for months on end. As far as I can tell, all the Center-affiliated apartments were generally nice. Personally, I think I liked San Serite best of the apartments I saw, but they’re all on more or less the same level. The deciding factor in whether people had a good time over the course of the year seems to have been how they got along with their roommate, so I suggest people considering that option to be careful in that regard.

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Learning Languages for Life: the FLAS Fellowship

Sorry for not updating more recently – between midterms, getting sick, finals and what I’ll be writing about today, I haven’t had the time or energy to flesh out any of the things I’ve wanted to write about recently. With any luck, things will settle down soon and you’ll get a rash of posts on slightly old topics shortly. Today, however, I thought I’d write a bit about that which is currently consuming this grad student’s life: summer plans.

The vast majority of the people pursuing Ph.D.’s do so with the help of fellowships, a certain kind of scholarship. These come in a variety of forms, but the aspect that concerns me at the moment is the summer. Some fellowships cover an entire year, but some only cover the academic year. That can leave you scrambling, but it also opens up other opportunities. (To be honest, in practice most people seem to be more irritated at the scrambling than thankful for the flexibility.)

For an area studies scholar like myself, the government runs a program called FLAS, or Foreign Language and Area Studies. FLAS fellowships are designed to ensure that the United States has a pool of people trained in speaking various languages in case a need arises. The academic-year fellowship also have an area studies component, in addition to language classes. You can use a FLAS fellowship to study Arabic, Chinese, Korean and a number of other languages deemed both important to the United States and understudied by Americans. The fellowships are administered by various colleges and universities and come in 10-month and 2-month strains. In other words, a fellowship covers either an academic year or the summer. Each one has two parts: a set amount of money for tuition, and a set amount of money for you to live on. If you’re a grad student, your school may add in some extra money if it’s in a city with a high cost of living.

There are several tricks to the summer FLAS which complicate matters. First, summer classes have to be intensive – 120 hours is the minimum, and that’s only for advanced language learners. Then you have the double bind of the spirit versus the letter of the fellowship. For my own purposes, because it is best for me, I want to be as fluent as possible. The Program wants me to be as fluent as possible. Ditto everyone else on the FLAS. However, the best way to gain that fluency is often to travel to a nation where your language is actually spoken to take your intensive class – a $1,000+ cost that is not included in your fellowship. In addition, you most likely have carrying costs in America during this time – a year-long lease you can’t sublet, car insurance payments, cable/gas/electric bills – which you have to cover out of an already-small stipend.

It’s hard. Figuring out the details and trying to get additional funding so that I can do this right has occupied a lot of my time, a lot of my advisor’s time and a lot of our local FLAS administrator’s time. To some extent I’ve had to recover lost territory – I couldn’t buy plane tickets until getting the details of a certain kind of funding set, but by the time that was settled, a sale I had found was gone and tickets had gone up $500. I got $600 in another kind of funding explicitly for tickets around the same time, but now tickets are up $600 from when I first looked for them.

It’s complicated. It’s a bit unwieldy, as a system, since you have to apply for funding and programs separately, and can’t guarantee either until you’ve heard from both. This summer, lingering effects of the earthquake in Japan got several summer programs cancelled, and even more were considering until very close to the deadline by which the FLAS administrators needed to know where I was going. (Past, actually. They have been extremely understanding and helpful throughout.)

All that said, I’m going to attend the premier Japanese-language program in the world this summer, and I will be far more fluent in August than I am today. At this point in my career, I need a great honking shove in the patootie to get over that next major hump in learning Japanese. This is it.

Having this opportunity means that next year, if all goes as planned, I will be able to start learning Korean. Learning these languages helps me do my job, but it also helps the nation. We’ve seen what happens when we’re suddenly thrust into an engagement with a group whose language we hardly understand twice now. FLAS is intended to protect against that by ensuring that languages which people wouldn’t necessarily study on their own get studied and that people who might study a language a little bit in high school or college and then forget half of it are able to take the extra steps to become fluent for life.