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Campus Now


A WASEDA Miscellany
Paul Snowden

Paul Snowden

This theme:Communicate

Paul Snowden/Faculty of International, Liberal Studies, Senior Dean

Since Waseda has just celebrated a very important anniversary, let me first mention a couple of my own anniversaries. Next year in April, I will celebrate 40 years since my fi rst arrival in Japan, as an English Conversation teacher. December, 2007 marked thirty years since my fi rst job as a university teacher, at Tsukuba University. Most recently, April 2008 saw the twenty-fi fth anniversary of my full-time employment at Waseda, where I taught English in the School of Political Science and Economics until 2004, since when I have been attached to the new School of International Liberal Studies.

In those years, I have written or edited a wide variety of books, textbooks and dictionaries, mostly on topics concerned with either language learning or cross-cultural awareness.

Twenty-five years ago, Waseda students (perhaps the parents of our current students) had to put up with far worse facilities than we have now. The Library was limited to Building 2; elevators were almost unknown in most buildings;air-conditioning was not installed in classrooms; there was nowhere to eat on campus. But perhaps because of those hardships, there was a kind of cheerful solidarity. I remember teaching so-called "Conversation" classes of 60 students, where most members did their best to avoid speaking at all. But at least there were a few at the front of the room who were determined to participate. It is that curiosity for new experiences and determination to take part in new relationships that distinguished the best Waseda students - and I think it still does, although I wish there were a few more of such students.

Present-day society makes it so easy for us to survive without paying much attention to what is happening in society around us, and I think that that is dangerous. We can easily survive a whole day, or even a whole week, without talking to anyone apart from our close family or friends. Is it a good thing to fail to communicate with people outside such a close circle? Waseda encourages its students to study overseas: at SILS, it is compulsory, while at other Schools it is becoming more and more easy to do. As one reason for studying overseas, many students give the desire to become better speakers of English (or Chinese, or French, etc., depending on their destination). What they must remember is that when they fi rst go overseas, the people they need to communicate with will not be their close family or friends. In other words, they will be just the type of person they tend to avoid speaking to while in Japan.

So many come to the SILS offi ce with application forms, and hand them over the counter to the offi ce staff without saying a single word; so many buy their lunch at the Co-op and pay for it in total silence; so many get on the bus to Takadanobaba without uttering a word to the driver. It is this attitude of silence that they must change when they go abroad to a culture where such silence is regarded as ignorant, rude and uncivilized. Why not practice while still in Japan, and get used to saying things like, "Here is my form for a scholarship" in the offi ce, "Sorry about the ¥10,000" in the Co-op, "Thank you" to the bus driver? That is the fi rst easy step towards the international attitudes that Waseda is now promoting.

I say this frequently to the students in my classes, and I hope some of them follow my advice. Sometimes, when I am handing back homework, and no student even says "Thank you," I stop the class and remind everyone to say something when they receive their homework. Then, if one student fi nally has the courage to say,"Thank you," the next student, and the next, and the next will say so, too. That's very good, but another step is necessary: don't just use exactly the same expression as the previous person used. Try to think of something different and original. In that way, sometimes when I take attendance, if the first three students all reply,

"Here," I ask the following students to use other expressions, such as "Yes," "Present" and so on. The next stage is to answer in more than one word:"Here I am," "Yes, here today" etc., etc. Waseda as a whole, and SILS in particular, are trying hard to bring this awareness of international culture into everyone's consciousness, and I do hope that those students with the curiosity and determination that I mentioned above will understand and act.