The COVID-19 pandemic has urged us to seek out new forms of studying abroad since the traditional study abroad system is not always feasible. Therefore, the University of Tokyo’s School of Science has launched an online study abroad program that gives students the opportunity to experience studying at a university outside of Japan even under changing circumstances.
A study abroad experience online
My initial motivation for applying to the Study and Visit Abroad Program (SVAP) Online was to learn about a subject related to my major at a university in the United States. Moreover, taking classes at UTokyo and a university abroad at the same time was also challenging but appealing to me, as I thought that I would be able to deepen my understanding of the subject. Through SVAP Online, I took part in a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Summer Sessions course. There were about thirty students in the online classroom, participating not only from North America, but also from Asia. The course was very interactive as we could ask questions during class by speaking up or using Zoom Chat. We also had support from teaching assistants and the professor would answer any questions we had.
One valuable experience for me was interacting with students with diverse academic backgrounds. On one occasion, we had to make a group presentation on a recently published academic article from an internationally recognised publisher. In my group, there were astronomy and biology major undergraduate students and one prospective undergraduate student, and the diversity of curiosities, which were strongly influenced by their respective majors, was quite intriguing. The English competency varied within the group, through which I was able to gain some tips on accurately conveying my ideas. I believe that what I experienced and the obstacles I encountered during these group discussions, including, but not limited to, communication skills, discussion techniques, interactions among peers in different faculties, will have a positive impact on my career.
In addition, the office hour system at universities in the U.S. worked quite well for me. This is a set time you can talk to professors about not only class content but other topics as well, such as advice for pursuing a doctoral degree. I made use of this system to meet a professor specialized in mineral physics who spoke freely with me about their research field and related areas, the university situation in the U.S., and academic careers.
It should be noted that when participating in an online study abroad program, the students and teachers live in different time zones. The UCLA Summer Session course I attended was in the early morning from 3:00 a.m. to 4:45 a.m. Japan time, so I had to adjust my lifestyle according to the time difference, such as going to bed earlier. Sometimes I needed to be a short sleeper or an early bird to prepare for classes in both countries, but overall I had sufficient time to sleep for a fresh start in the morning.
It was an unforgettable experience to interact with students from diverse backgrounds, such as different countries, regions, and universities, during the course.
An interest in chemistry, biology, and language — all in connection with the Earth
My curiosities have always stemmed from the natural world, such as minerals, biology, and chemistry. When I lived in England, I had the opportunity to visit the Natural History Museum in London and the Deutsches Museum, which is affiliated with a Max Planck Institute in Munich. This is how my interests broadened to include the Earth, the home to all life, and I decided to enroll in the Department of Earth and Planetary Environmental Science at the Faculty of Science. Classes in this department are fascinating as you learn both broadly and deeply about the Earth from various perspectives. The classes here are not confined to lectures in classrooms, in which we become familiar with the basic concepts as well as the latest research — we try to identify key geological structures in the field and, on a smaller scale, we observe minerals and measure components of samples in laboratories.
I am also interested in the Department of Chemistry where lectures are mainly conducted in English. My interests include natural languages as well, and I want to systematically learn more European languages, such as German, Italian, Latin, and Classical Greek.
In addition to English-speaking countries such as the U.S. and England, I would like to study abroad or do research at a university in a German-speaking country. I am keen on learning about the historical and cultural backgrounds of German-speaking countries, universities and institutes therein, which can only be fully understood through everyday life.
I personally believe that studying abroad means having the chance to broaden my perspective by participating in discussions and active communication in laboratories with students or professors from various countries. In the future, I hope to optimise my expertise and language skills to do research at an international organization or research institute with scientists from different backgrounds.
Message for students
When you decide to study abroad, you need to prepare for classes while bearing in mind the long flights, language barriers, and living in an unfamiliar country. In contrast, taking online courses at home allows you to focus on the studies instead of fretting over miscellaneous matters. Another advantage is that you can compare classes abroad with the ones you’re taking at your current university. This means that you can simultaneously deepen your understanding of the subject in your native language and learn how to express yourself in English, which is an important ability when joining an international community. Therefore, it is fair to say that participating in a study abroad program online could be a practical option when you are not ready to study in a country outside of Japan. You can also establish rapport and relationships with people from various countries and regions, which have unique cultures and viewpoints, even if you take online courses and if you’re proactive enough, which will be useful when studying abroad in the future.
SVAP Online is still new so if you have any questions, please contact the staff in the International Liaison Office (ILO). Ms. Sakuta from ILO helped me a lot by contacting the person in charge of UCLA Summer Sessions and ensuring that my classes went smoothly.
Whether virtual or in-person, this kind of international experience is a very valuable opportunity to gain new insights into the world of science, and I feel that I have been inspired by new ideas and views from diversified and respectful perspectives, which is why I highly recommend studying abroad.
※Year of interview:2022
Interview and text: Kanako Takeda
Photography: Junichi Kaizuka