This is just a page recounting some of my impressions of Nagoya and Nanzan University, which I experienced as an exchange student through IES, for other students interested in study abroad.
To start with a bit about IES, because the experience is certainly different for those transferring directly into Nanzan: I have only good things to say about my time with IES Abroad Nagoya. Although I arrived later than other students, I was quickly brought up to speed in a personal orientation with the very understanding director of student services, Mr. Satoshi. All of the students loved Mr. Satoshi (and his assistant Kaede, too, of course!). He's easy to talk to, funny, and readily available to answer any questions. The orientation period (in Inuyama) is helpful in getting all of the students acquainted with one another, and provides a nice buffer period between leaving your daily American life and transitioning to your daily Japanese life.The IES program itself is full of activities outside of school (you can easily see the places we were able to visit in my blog entries), which were extremely helpful in developing a sense of community among students.
Nagoya isn't a city you hear too much about, though I don't know why you wouldn't! It is very large (as the capital of Aichi prefecture would be) and very lively, although not to the degree of Tokyo. It is very easy to navigate and get around. The subway system is not nearly complex as that of Tokyo or Osaka. If you like shopping, you will find your impulses can easily be indulged in Nagoya at places like Sakae and Osu Kannon. If you like to eat, Nagoya is the place for you. There seems to be quite a proliferation of little cafes there. And do you like chicken wings? Because Nagoya is famous for its tebasaki. Do you not particularly like chicken wings? It doesn't matter; if you are omnivorous you will like tebasaki.
Nagoya has a good mix of the historical (like Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Shrine, or the Tokugawa Art Museum) and the modern (such as Toyota's factory and museum), for those interested in either aspect. Nagoya is also a major Japanese port (complete with Ferris wheel). For those interested in art, the Nagoya area (Nagoya and Seto) is known for its ceramics and pottery. And did you know Akira Toriyama was raised nearby? He wrote Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Besides the beautiful parks in Nagoya itself, there is a lot of wonderful, natural scenery, not too long of a drive or train ride away (in neighboring Mie prefecture, for example). You may want to join a hiking club, or at least take a visit to Inuyama. There is also a theme park not too far away, if you want to take the day to visit it (Nagashima Spaland, in Mie).
The weather is quite nice, though you may find it a touch too cold in the winters and a touch too hot in the summers.
Homestay vs Dorm
One of the problems I had was deciding whether to stay with a family or with students in a dorm. It's a very personal decision. I had a wonderful family (my only constant sense of grief wasn't that I didn't get along with them, but that I couldn't communicate to the extent that I wanted to, or knew that I should). They were very engaging and kind, forgiving, and quite modern. In the same program there were students who lived with elderly couples who were more traditional, though no less kind. However, there are always a few cases in which you may feel uncomfortable in a home-stay.
If a family is very rigid, being a foreigner and not understanding their way of doing things may cause strain on both you and your host parents. Or, you may be placed with a family that often travels, leaving you alone at home; if you wanted to be placed with a family for a family atmosphere, this is a negative experience. Also, you may be placed with a family that does not cope well with having a student below a certain proficiency. There are even cases in which you love the family, but the placement is geographically not working for you. Whether these problems drive you to spend all of your time at home alone in your room, or force you to ask for a change in accommodation, you just won't get all of you can out of your time abroad. If you are very sensitive, or think you may find it difficult to assimilate, you may want to think of staying in a dorm instead.
That said, the IES application seems to do a good job of gleaning information about your personality and preferences, in order that you be placed in a household which most suits you. A home-stay offers wonderful opportunities for interaction and new relationships and experiences.
The dorm life can also be very fulfilling. The dorms at Nanzan are full of students from all over the world, all interested in Japanese and Japan, just as you are, which makes for a tight-knit community and a good support system. It's helpful at study time. There are also Japanese students who live at the dorms, who can help you adjust to school life and of course are a great resource for learning casual Japanese. Dorms can allow you a greater degree of mobility and freedom. It also gives you the ability to eat what you want, and avoid things you may be allergic to, or things which you don't happen to like. Most dorms are quite close to the school, so you don't need to buy a commuter pass, which can be quite expensive, or worry about acquiring a bicycle. As a dorm student, you have to open a bank account which is only optional for home-stayers, but the process if very easy and well-explained, so you shouldn't worry too much about it.
The down-sides are, being grouped with other students, many from English-speaking countries and many who speak English in addition to their native language, you may not get the exposure to Japanese that you'd like. At Nanzan, the school year for exchange students differs from that of Japanese students, so there will be a sizable period where your home life has very little native Japanese in it. There may be curfews and restrictions on who you may bring to your room. Besides that, dorm life in Japan may have any and all the problems that you face in dorm life in America: mean or messy roommates, not-that-great cafeteria food, thin walls, uncomfortable beds, stoves that don't work, etc. (Personally, my very limited time in a friend's dorm room was very pleasant.)
In the end though, the amount that you learn and the relationships you forge are the result of your hard work and engagement, not whether you signed up to live with a family or live with students; so pick whichever you think is best for you, or whichever you think is more fun.
Nanzan University has a campus in Seto as well, but the main campus is in the Showa ward, between the Yagoto Nisseki and Nagoya Daigaku train stations (it is also near the Irinaka station). The campus is fairly small. There are many clubs which are open to foreign students joining, but because the Japanese school year differs from the school year kept by the study abroad program, you may not be able to participate for very long, or right away. Specifically, martial arts clubs seemed very open to participation by foreign students. Nanzan University is a religious school (it offers training for priests, etc, so some of the foreign students you meet may be attending for this), but it is by no means exclusive, or an oppressive atmosphere. Nanzan has a strong foreign language program, so you will find students who are just as interested in language as you are. There is a room specifically for speaking and practicing your foreign language skills, where you will find students speaking Chinese, Portuguese, French and much more.
There is a decent selection of classes for foreign students. You may be barred from enrolling in some by your language level. At the beginning of the semester you must take a test to determine what level Japanese class you will take. This may seem very nerve-wracking, but as long as you study up on what you already know, you should be placed in a level that is perfect for you. Every student receives the same test; your level is determined by how far you are able to continue, as the material gets more difficult. Culture classes are open to all levels, and are very interesting. My Sadou class was one of my most enjoyable. Ikebana and Hanga carving classes are also available. Academically, the courses seem very tuned to writing skills, which is especially helpful. Classes are only held once a week, so you may not feel as overwhelmed by work as you do in your classes in America, but your assignments may be demanding, especially if you enroll heavily in academic rather than culture classes.
As for the Japanese classes themselves, they are certainly more intense than the classes I've experienced in America. They are very long and involved. You will have more than one instructor, and they will cycle through lessons throughout the day; also, teachers do not consistently teach the same level, so I can't say anything about the quality of one level's teacher over another. If you are staying for an academic year, the teachers will follow you to the next level. This ensures they know your name and are aware of your strengths and weaknesses. If you are unhappy with your teacher, though, this means that you will have to deal with them another semester. However, the teachers are very tuned to students suggestions and comments, so if you feel as if you are falling behind, you may be paired with a tutor; if you feel the lessons aren't helpful, you can feel free to bring the matter up with them.
I was placed in the 500 level (levels may range from 2/300 to 6/700). At this point the textbook is An Integrated Approach to Japanese. While I did not find that it was in anyway ineffective as a textbook, some of the reading material was dull. For the first half of the semester, as we studied how to debate and prepared to take surveys and write formal reports explaining our results, the material was quite academic and so perhaps a bit boring. When you finish the book you begin to read short stories, which I found more interesting and engaging. I found that my writing skills greatly improved over the course of my studies at Nanzan. Pronunciation, speaking, and listening skills were also an integral part of our studies. Shadowing, listening to Japanese audio and trying to reproduce it as quickly as possible, was a difficult but helpful activity that you might find useful as well. Outside of that, you may run into activities which you do regularly in your own class rooms: speeches and dialogues, etc.