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The 3rd ESSVAP (Elite Science Student Visit Abroad Program)

UC Berkeley and Stanford University

  • E. Gosho (International Liaison Office, Lecturer)

For the 3rd ESSVAP scheduled for 10 days from March 4th through March 13th, 10 of juniors and seniors at the Faculty of Science visited UC Berkeley and Stanford University. One of the students wrote a short report for us on what he felt during his visit.

  • H. Watanabe (Department of Physics, Senior Student)
Figure 1

Figure1 : UC Berkeley at 11:00 a.m.

Figure 2

Figure2 : Campus Tour at Stanford University

During the 10 day-long ESSVAP stay, I found out that the campus life, education and research at the University of Tokyo, which I vaguely believed to be universal, were completely different from those at the universities in the US.

It is said that USA is a very competitive society. Once you get into the business world, you are evaluated not by the university you graduated from but what you learned and did at university. In Japan, some students study at a university having their parents' financial support while most students in the US lead an independent life making a student loan and being highly-motivated about proceeding to higher education. Also, in Japan, it is considered to be better to take a safe way than the long way, which is a kind of uniform tendency. In American universities, however, students seem to be flexible with change in direction if they do not fit in the course they have chosen.

Close connection between laboratories such as the discussion and cooperation between theoretical and experimental scientists at the Department of Physics of the University is common in Japanese universities, which I came to realize through my visit in physics laboratories after I had come back from the US. However, the hierarchically-organized relationship in laboratories can be significantly different from that in American laboratories. The story I heard from Prof. Joonhong Ahn, associate professor at the School of Engineering, UC Berkeley, was impressive; in American universities, “a person who has brought an interesting subject and/or fund” becomes the center of a group and he/she collects necessary members to set up a project team. In the team, a professor could assist a graduate student and the team members are not limited to laboratory members.

Through the academic exchange with American students, I was surprised to see that each student does not hesitate to express clearly his/her own opinions in public. Actually, a female student had a discussion with all of us at a time. They say students who study at the same university for a long time are rare in the US. In addition to that, students have a wide variety of academic backgrounds. I suppose it would be always necessary to be able to debate in the proper way in such an environment. Small-group classes are common in American universities and it is “participation” that counts, rather than “attendance” in class; some classes require students to make remarks in class. “Original ideas” are more highly evaluated than ordinary ones even if they are not correct. In such an environment, I think students will get more assertive and better at debating.

By the way, it is a famous story that the students of the University of Tokyo often say, “I'm just a student at the University of Tokyo,” hesitating to say the name of his/her university when they are asked. Although the students are proud of their university, they are reluctant to say good things about their own university due to the public image of the University as one of the first-level universities in Japan. UC Berkeley students, however, were different. They were proud of their university and did not hesitate to say that they love their university and they think it is a great university. Many students were wearing university parkas on which eye-catching and yellow “Cal” was printed. I guess it should be the school spirit. I envied their straightforwardness when I saw it. Besides, the fact that the students said they are proud of the “diversity” of their university as one of the characteristics of Cal made a strong impression on me. In fact, the campus was full of people with a variety of ethnic groups and appearances, which was far beyond my imagination. Looking back on what I experienced there, I could not help thinking about what could be the features of the University of Tokyo that I can be proud of.

What I have told so far sounds like criticism on Japanese universities because I have seen so many good things about American universities. To avoid misunderstanding, though, I would like to add the fact that now I am thinking about studying at a Graduate School of the University of Tokyo. I have a lot of friends here with whom I can discuss physics and there are many attractive laboratories I want to work at. Keeping the particularities of the University of Tokyo in mind, I would like to enjoy my campus life taking pride in being a student at the University of Tokyo.