Student stories: Exchange in Japan

Getting out of your familiar surrounding and embracing the unknown and sometimes fearful is what makes our creativity spark. Three students share their impressions from diving into a new culture and living and studying in Japan.

D. Brad Mullen

Moving to Tokyo, Japan and attending an exchange at Tama Art University was both an extremely difficult but also a very rewarding experience. At Tama Art University, I took courses within the Information Design department’s Interactions Design program. There I endeavoured to learn more about the practice of interaction design and its technical implementation, however, my coursework directed me to instead work within the realm of new media art and learn creative coding techniques. Although, I had never considered working in this field before going to Japan, in the end I was able to create an interactive piece which my Senseis thought was both interesting and unique. Outside of my studies I explored Tokyo, most often by bicycle, I travelled around Japan, sometimes with friends from Aalto, and I sang a lot of karaoke.

Emilia Tapprest

I went for an exchange to Tama Art University during autumn 2014 – spring 2015. Technically, it was only for one semester but I stayed in Tokyo for a few more months to finish my bachelor thesis.
Although my major in Finland was Industrial Design, I applied for the “Information Design” department of Tamabi (equivalent to our New Media), because I was interested about physical interface prototyping. I had been to Japan before for a few months and I very much appreciate the culture and aesthetics. My overall experience had been wonderful, in many ways. But there are many factors that made it so. First of all, I knew that the teaching would be in Japanese so I studied the language already beforehand. This helped a lot for integrating at the university and for feeling home in daily life – at local supermarkets, art events and official affairs.
When it comes to studies in Tamabi, students were expected to work more independently than in Aalto. Also, there was an artistic, or somehow poetic, undertone, which inspired me a lot. Other factors that were crucial for my experience were living in the centre of Tokyo instead of the campus, which motivated me to go to events and make friends also outside of school. What surprised me most dring my stay was the community. I had an accident only after two weeks in Japan and the support from school and local friends were astounding. I imagine that what you learn from living in a very different culture is always difficult to put into words, but, well, at least I can say that I learned a lot of concrete skills at the Information Design department! I can absolutely recommend this university to others, but with proper preparations. Expectations play a big role on how you adjust and harness life there.

Lara Jasim

I was in Japan studying Design Science from October 2015 till March 2016. I have always wanted to experience Japan as a destination, culture, civilisation and all of that Japanese phenomena that has been a wonderment in every possible way. I got the one of a kind chance to apply for a scholarship to Chiba University that offered two scholarships for two students from Alto University. Thankfully after a long and rocky road of sending applications, portfolio and recommendation letters I got a positive reply with the airplane tickets. I loved every minute of my exchange studies there, although I would recommend the same program for students that are heading toward second year of BA. I felt that some courses of that program were generally too easy to pass. I know it sounds crazy to complain about, but as an Aalto University Design student our professors have set some pretty high standards for passing our courses. Nevertheless, as a whole experience, Japan amazed me beyond my expectations and taught me so much about myself and as a designer. I learned to re-question the entire design process and ask why, and why not, in every step of the path.


If you are curious about going abroad as well, check the Aalto ARTS abroad platform to search for your dream university and exchange destination. What are you waiting for?