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From the Faculty of International Social Studies (Provisional Name) to the World

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Tim Marchand
(Associate Professor, Preparatory Office for the Faculty of International Social Studies, Gakushuin University)

Your experience in Japan
Tell us some of your best experiences in Japanese society

It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that I have a great experience in Japanese society on a daily basis thanks to the exceptionally high standard of service offered in most shops, cafes and restaurants here. Some specific moments that stand out, though, are attending a local sports festival (運動会) in Osaka, and my annual ritual of writing calligraphy at Kitano Tenmangu shrine in Kyoto.

When I lived in Osaka, I stayed with a host family for a few months and was invited to participate in a sports day held at the local junior high school. I was immediately welcomed by everyone there, and encouraged to try out a number of events including the tug of war (綱引き) and something resembling what we would call the three-legged race in the UK (デカパンリレー). Of course both events were a lot of fun, but what impressed me most was the strong sense of community I felt throughout the day, and how well people from all generations mixed and got along with each other.

In the last few years, I have made a habit of going to Kitano Tenmangu shrine and writing my first kanji of the year (書き初め). The whole outing is a rich experience for all the senses: the taste and smell of freshly cooked food being sold along the path to the shrine gate; the sound of bells ringing as people offer their prayers; the touch of the paper and brush supplied by the shrine to help you form your “word” for the year ahead; and the sight of young children being encouraged to master their own brushstrokes by their parents - and doing a lot better job of it than me! It is always a refreshing experience, and a great way to start the year.

Tell us some of the things that you were surprised/shocked by in Japan.

Something that continues to surprise me in Japan is how even adults have a strong liking for cute things. When I started my first job in Japan in Osaka, I was asked to open a bank account with the Sanwa Bank (which has since merged and become a part of the Mitsubishi-UFG group). The bankbook and card I received from Sanwa featured pictures of Snoopy and Woodstock from the Peanuts comic strip. I assumed there had been some kind of mistake, and asked to check whether they had created a kids account for me by accident. But no, these were the standard items given to all new savings account holders. When I spoke to some Japanese friends about it, rather than sharing my surprise at this, they all said how they envied me having such a cute bankcard!

Things you noticed/realized while teaching at universities in Japan

Compared to the European students I have taught in the UK, I have found Japanese students to be much more willing and careful to follow the teacher’s suggestions to the letter. This means that I am often impressed by how well students can complete tasks, especially when collaborating in groups. I have also found that many students take a great deal of pride in maintaining simple things like a study notebook. These things mean that a lot of Japanese students have in place the foundation of basic study skills and practices that will help them succeed well at university.

On the other hand, I have found students in Japan to be a little more passive and less proactive when compared to their counterparts overseas. Students at universities in the UK and Europe have a lot more responsibility thrust upon them at an early stage, a kind of sink or swim attitude. As a result, a lot more students in Europe end up failing courses, but those who can handle the responsibility are much more likely to ask questions during classes, get involved in heated discussions, and even openly disagree with the teacher. This naturally encourages critical thinking, which is another important component to academic success.

What do you want to teach at the Faculty of International Social Studies?

On a simple level, I would like to help students develop the required skills to become independent, autonomous learners. In order to achieve this, it is important that they learn certain academic skills and become comfortable with all forms of communication in English, which is currently the global language for business and academic discourse.

But on a deeper level, what I hope to achieve here is fostering an understanding of the world as it is, and encouraging students to discover their place, and future role, in it. This would mean that students develop an awareness of some of the issues that the world is facing, and acquire the skills of critical thinking and analysis to look for the underlying patterns, and potential solutions. By the end of their studies at the Faculty of International Social Sciences, I hope that students will feel confident that they can make a meaningful contribution to society as a global citizen.

Why students should go abroad?

In today’s globalized economy, it is important for individuals to be adaptable, self-reliant and comfortable facing new challenges. One of the best ways to pick up these skills is by studying abroad. It goes without saying that your language skills will improve when you live and study in another country. But just as important are the life skills that you can pick up by putting yourself into a foreign environment, and adapting to the unfamiliar customs and routines you encounter there.

I’ve been lucky enough to have studied or lived in several countries, including language exchanges in France, graduate study in Belgium, and working in Australia before coming to Japan. In each case, I have benefitted enormously from viewing the world from a new cultural perspective, usually with the help of the friends I have made in each country. In fact, the good friendships you can make is probably enough reason alone to study abroad.

What are some of the things that students should prepare/do before they go study abroad?

A simple answer to this would be to prepare whatever it takes to make you feel relaxed about studying overseas. I don’t necessarily mean language study, but perhaps things like reading up on your destination will help you imagine yourself living there, or collecting small reminders of home will help you feel comfortable in new surroundings. It’s also important to remember that many people are going to be interested in you, and where you come from, so before stepping on the airplane, it’s a good idea to reflect on what others might find interesting about your hometown, your family and your experiences.

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