During the spring semester 2011, two of Hedda master students were given the opportunity to undertake one study module of their master programme in J.F. Oberlin University in Japan. In this post, Lina Liu reflects on some of her experiences and gives some practical tips to students who might embark on a similar journey.
Due to my previous education in East Asian Studies in UiO, I had always dreamt of going to East Asian countries, especially Japan and South Korea. Supposedly, if I could go there in person, I might obtain a deeper understanding of the knowledge learned in class and receive some new experience-based perspectives concerning this region. Fortunately, thanks to a study abroad program initiated by the Higher Education program in UiO and J. F. Oberlin University in Japan, I got a terrific chance to visit and study in Japan for one month. In this way, dreams finally came true.
During this month, 3-week courses covering globalization of higher education, and Japanese and Asian higher education were offered. In fact, there were three main topicss: (1) globalization of Japanese higher education; (2) private higher education in Japan; and (3) Japan-focused internationalization of Asian higher education, namely Asianization. In this way, three different professors took main responsibility to arrange lectures for each week’s topic.
In fact, they did not only give presentations to us, they also invited various teachers from other universities and education-related agencies as guest lecturers for us. In the end, the lecturers whom we met in Japan ranged from professors in J. F. Oberlin University and Waseda University, officers from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), as well as professor from American UCLA.
In short, although this program was provided in Tokyo and mostly looked at the higher education development in Japan, it was not simply confined by giving interpretations from the Japanese point of view. Through discussing with various experts and policy-makers in the field, we got a much more comprehensive insight into Asian higher education development.
Moreover, tireless comparisons between higher education in different regions in the world were actively made all the time. Because I am from China, my classmate is from Africa, and both of us have been studying in Europe, it became very spontaneously fascinating for us to discuss the pros and cons of higher education policies in Asia, Africa and Europe. As a result, on the basis of such a cross-cultural and comparative way, the idea and implication of globalization in higher education got much more deeply considered. So to say, knowledge-sharing became very flexible and inspiring both for us and for the lecturers. By taking the Japanese higher education as a starting point, this program successfully helped us with sketching out a much more vivid picture of the “globalized” higher education.
In addition to the intensive courses, there were many exciting but also educational activities outside of class. For instance, Tachi sensei (teacher in Japanese), our professor from J. F. Oberlin University, took us to some famous shrines and the University of Tokyo after his lectures. Thanks to his good guide to these places, we undoubtedly felt more familiar with Japan’s higher education institutions, culture as well as history.
Furthermore, Kitamura sensei, a professor from Sophia University in Tokyo, not only accompanied us to the Tokyo Tower, but also personally showed us around Sophia University, one of the best private universities in Japan.
Additionally, other students whom we met in Japan showed kindness and hospitality, and our guided tour in Waseda University and Meisei University (a private university in Tokyo) were truly enjoyable. Lastly, to enjoy authentic Japanese food with local students was amazing. Since some Japanese food, such as Sushi and Okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza) need to be eaten in its own way, a wise way was to follow Japanese friends. This is also a good channel for us to gain a further understanding of Japanese culture and society.
In short, higher education is an all-embracing subject, having strong interactive relationship with the development in culture, society and politics. Therefore, in addition to the textbook and lectures, careful observation and to communication with local people is no less significant when it comes to understanding higher education. To enjoy daily life also colors student life and living, especially as in such a metropolitan city Tokyo.
The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca used to say: “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” We traveled and moved from one place to another to take higher education, we got opportunities to experience what is really going on in higher education domain. The “new vigor to our mind” was truly imparted and became thoughts for our further studies. So, in summary:
- I have received a direct and vivid impression of Japanese higher education. It gave me a very new and useful point of view to grasp the general picture of the globalized higher education in the world.
- I got a valuable chance to closely look at the Japanese society and culture. It assisted me to understand their higher education policy with more insightful and dynamic perspectives. It also helped me to view the Asian region with much more comparative considerations: it is an area being characterized by both similarities and differences. In this sense, the ‘Asianization’ of Asian higher education will be both promising and problematic. To a large extent, these ideas are rewarding for my East Asian studies as well.
- I have got the honor to know many intellectual and nice people in Japan, both teachers and students. I am very pleased to become a member of such an informative and active scholarly network.
Some Tips for Students Going to Japan Next Year
- Embrace anything exotic as much as you can. For some foreigners, especially people from non-Asian region, Japan may seem very exotic and different. But, in order to know this unique country better, it is very vital to open your mind and try to at least give it a shot, no matter for the food (such as Sushi) or for their traditional rituals (such as praying in the shrines).
- Be prepared to slow down the speed of your English. Japanese people are very well-educated and know English. But, for the sake of understanding, it will be much better to speak English clearly and slowly. Sometimes only keywords, such as “toilet” and “ticket”, are enough. Most of the time, Japanese are very friendly. Though they may not be able to reply in English, they would like to help even by making gestures. Hence, do not feel panic if communication in English is not as easy as living in Europe. Just be patient and there is always some Japanese people being able to help.
- Stay longer than one month. As earlier clarified, this one-month program is occupied with 3 weeks of lectures and one week of assignments. This seems somehow very intensive if you expect to know Japan more than simply taking the courses. I gave myself one extra week and visited some other cities after the program was over. However, I still felt it was far from enough. Please just remember to do some “travel homework” before going there.
The last but not the least, many thanks to Ms. Kristi Barcus in UiO, Mr. Fumitake in Oberlin University and others involved in the coordination. Without your great job, this Japan study trip might not go in such a smooth and nice way!
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