When I was 17 I decided, after long discussions with my parents, that it was time for me to spend a year away from home. I ended up in a small place outside Osaka called Kishiwada where I was introduced to the Danjiri-Festival and general Japanese high-school life. I am planning on writing more about this in another article so enough about that for now.
Once back in Europe I could think of little other then getting back to Japan again and the best way I could think of was to find a University that had an exchange program as part of the overall education. Other than that my criteria were that the education level was excellent (since in the end I would be paying for it) and that it was in Europe since tuition fees were much more reasonable then heading to America.
I visited a number of Universities before making my choice and talked to various professors at these institutions as well. However once I saw what SOAS had to offer there was no going back for me. A very high intensity program in a building which had a whole floor dedicated only to learning Japanese. Small dedicated classes and an exchange program at a Japanese University as part of the program. I also learned that there were sponsorships available for students with good grades which is always an added bonus.
I joined the course in 2000 and with hindsight must say that I enjoyed it immensely. For complete beginners of Japanese the pace of this course in nothing less then gruelling. The drop out rate is 20% in the first three months and barely 40% make it past the first year. However out of those that make the first year almost all will go on to graduate and will have a very good understanding of both language and culture to take with them.
Since SOAS is quite a small part of London University there is also a strange camaraderie that comes with having graduated from this institution. There are rules and customs very particular to SOAS and anyone who has spent time there can tell you about it.
I am very proud of my Alma mater and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone wanting to study any Asian or African language in a serious matter.