Hitotsubashi has a really neat student organization called ASSIST; as the name suggests they help incoming exchange students with everything from moving in to government paperwork to registering for courses and so on. If I am not mistaken Penn doesn`t have anything like this, or if they do its not as prominent as ASSIST. These guys are really helpful and friendly and more importantly, patient to a fault – I myself can`t stand waiting around at the municipal office for my own paperwork; it must really suck for them. After meeting students on the the day they move in, the ASSIST person assigned provides students with his or her cell phone number, in case they have any questions later on about the university/japan/whatever. For exchange students this is a great opportunity to make Japanese friends, which can be really difficult if you are living with other international students/you`re Japanese isn`t that great. The group is also throwing a welcome party for exchange students in a couple of weeks, which is something to look forward to.
There are lots of organizations/programs like ASSIST that support exchange students and help them get used to Japanese life. One of the bigger ones is Magic Lamp run by a nice old lady called Arai san. This lady is superwoman without the tights. Just yesterday, she came buy with two of her friends with a car load of futons/covers/blankets for the newcomers to the international dorm or kaikan. These things are generally very expensive in the area so Arai san gets the community to donate them to students. You can basically just go to her place and ask for stuff and she will help arrange for it which is ridiculous.
I felt ridiculous when I went over with a group of Thai girls and met with her. When I told her that I`m originally Egyptian she kind of went bonkers on me (in her defence, I`m probably the only Egyptian in Kunitachi at the moment) and asked me to cook for her International Cuisine club sometime. I told her I`d make her some molokheya, a plant that the Japanese, I was surprised to find, also eat. But whereas Arabs eat molokheya as a soup/sauce with rice or bread, the Japanese eat モロヘイヤ as part of a vegetable dish. When her dog sauntered into the room, Arai san was thrilled to point out that her dog is called Cleopatra, because `she is so beautiful`. She expected me to swoon – I did but for a different reason altogether. No offense to her, but by no stretch of the imagination can her dog be considered beautiful. Amazingly, the others didn`t seem to think anything was wrong, so I refrained from making any comment and had a private giggle instead.
After an hour or so of conversation, I arranged for my futons to be delivered and also applied for a Kunitachi host family (I won`t be living with them) to support me during my stay at the suggestion of ex-Hitotsubashi exchange students. Anymore support and they`ll be taking my classes for me. Its great.