Postcard from...Tokyo Education

Konnichiwa!

It is not easy getting acclimatised in a foreign place, but the experiences that come with it are extremely rewarding

“I’d like to order this pasta here,” I say, pointing to the menu, “But can you make it without the meat? Just the vegetables, please. Is that possible?” The server is surprised and I clarify. She writes it down and then bows. “Of course, we’ll do that.”

This sounds like a normal interaction for any vegetarian Indian studying abroad, except for one thing: our entire conversation was in Japanese. I’m in my third year at Waseda University, Tokyo. My course at the School of International Liberal Studies (SILS) is conducted in English and I take a variety of classes that can be tailored to suit my own interests, ranging from architecture and gender studies to English poetry and politics. I also fulfil credit requirements for Japanese and try out elective courses such as wrestling and Chinese.

Back in Chennai, my love for manga (Japanese comics) led to teaching myself the Japanese alphabets. My parents encouraged my interest by sending me to a local language school. Upon research and attending education fairs, I found that the Japanese government is working to establish English-based degree courses in many of its prestigious universities, to welcome more foreign students. Intrigued, I applied. Another factor that helped seal my decision was that the tuition is far less expensive than that of most American universities, and scholarship opportunities are abundant. Many teachers at my university also come from all over the world, just like us students.

I thought it would be challenging but memorable to study in a country I had never even visited before, and learn a new language along the way. SILS allows a large degree of freedom for me to design my course plan and I can now attend some easier Japanese-taught classes. As an aspiring investigative journalist, I thought this experience would make me more adaptable and provide a global perspective that isn’t Eurocentric.

Living the life

I was instantly at home in Tokyo and now enjoy a solo apartment life. The peak of summer is about the same as a pleasant day in Chennai and city winters are bearable. I quickly became used to the earthquakes. When I first experienced a strong tremor, the whole room rocked like a train and I panicked, convinced that the world was ending. Now, I sleep through the same. The cost of living is high in Tokyo, but students can take up part-time work to support themselves. Being vegetarian here is also difficult, so I depend on my own cooking. However, Japan is incredibly safe and I don’t hesitate before dressing the way I desire, attending evening classes, or taking a train ride across the country on my own. Hiking is my new-found hobby and during one summer break, I climbed Mt. Fuji and in winter, I learnt how to snowboard.

I highly encourage my Indian peers to consider Japan when researching higher studies options, to gain a truly life-changing experience.

Sahana Venugopal is currently pursuing her BA in International Liberal Studies in Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 8:55:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/konnichiwa/article25213087.ece

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