Sam Butler and Josh McCormack couldn't get enough Japanese lessons at school and were thrilled to keep learning after their Higher School Certificate finished at the end of last year.
The two former Illawarra Grammar School students excelled at high-level Japanese during their HSC, allowing them to win Japanese government scholarships to travel to the country over summer.
They spoke of their experiences at the school this week.
Josh, 18, spent 10 days in December visiting places ravaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami - which he said gave him a new understanding of how the country worked.
"I was struck by the resilience of the people mainly - I saw a small fishing town where all of the businesses had been wiped out but everyone was so welcoming," he said.
"I remember watching the tsunami on TV when it happened but hearing the stories from the victims was another thing altogether."
Sam, also 18, was set to join his friend but fell ill just before he was due to leave.
Luckily he was able to organise a replacement trip in January to stay with a family in southern Japan.
"I was actually attending school in a place called Kasai ... and I got to experience day-to-day life ... no-one spoke a word of English in the town," Sam said.
"It was amazing to see the differences in how schools work - in my school they had no technology and people just used pen and paper and still used chalkboards."
"And their level of maths is a lot higher - it's like doing extension maths without calculators."
Both continue their Japanese studies at university this month, with Josh studying international studies and languages at the University of Wollongong.
Sam has been awarded a scholarship for international studies at the University of NSW and will be allowed to skip the first two years of his Japanese course because of his fluency in the language.