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With the coronavirus pandemic restricting overseas travel, online study abroad programs have been attracting attention in Japan.

While there are several issues with such classes, including those involving the time difference, some experts voice hope that people use such programs to prepare for when they actually study abroad after the COVID-19 situation has calmed down.

According to Japan’s education ministry, the number of Japanese people studying abroad had been rising over the past few years.

In fiscal 2019, however, the number of such students fell 6.8% from the previous year, apparently due to the spread of the coronavirus in spring, when many people travel to study abroad.

As an alternative, a growing number of students who were unable to travel outside of Japan switched over to the online programs, which enable them to study at overseas universities and other education institutions without having to be physically there.

Moe Kitagaki, 24, a graduate student at Kogakuin University, had planned to study architecture in Italy from October last year. Her plan, however, fell through due to the coronavirus crisis.

Recommended by a university staff member, Kitagaki started taking online classes twice a week from February this year.

“The advantage (of the online program) is that I am able to understand how the classes proceed,” Kitagaki said, adding that she plans to study in Italy from October this year if coronavirus infections are subdued.

Kaho Kamiyama, a 22-year-old student who studies cultural anthropology at the Miyazaki Municipal University, gave up on a plan to study in Indonesia last year.

Kamiyama started taking online classes five days a week from February this year. In the program, Kamiyama reads research papers and delivers a presentation after listening to a three-hour lecture held in the local language.

While noting that there are advantages to the online program such as cheaper tuition fees, Kamiyama said, “As cultural anthropology is largely based on field work, it is disappointing that I cannot engage in such activities.”

Daiki Masumoto, a 25-year-old graduate student at Kyushu Institute of Technology, had been majoring in renewable energy engineering from August 2019 at a university in Iceland.

After returning to Japan in March last year due to the spread of the coronavirus, Masumoto has been taking classes online from home.

As Japan is nine hours ahead of Iceland, Masumoto currently attends classes from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Japan time.

Masumoto’s days and nights are reversed as he sometimes stays up until around 6 a.m. working on assignments with other students in Iceland.

“It’s tough because my family and I have very different life rhythms,” Masumoto said.

Yukari Kato, chief editor of overseas education magazine Ryugaku Journal, said, “While (online programs) cannot replace experiences that can only be obtained through life overseas, they encourage people to test their language skills as (such programs) ease concerns over time and money.”

“I hope that people make good use of the online programs so that they will be able to experience a far more positive outcome when they actually go and study abroad,” Kato said.

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