Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From Where I Sit - Culture Swap

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From Where I Sit - Culture Swap

Article excerpt

During the holidays, our students can get extra credits by studying at our sister college in the US. I interview them before they go. They sidle, giggling, into my office and with little eye contact whisper that their goal is to understand others' world view and talk with foreigners. When I ask them if they have any concerns about going abroad, they reply that foreign food is "high calorie". Then they bow and shuffle away to pack their Hello Kitty cases with packet miso soup.

A couple of months later, I am accosted in the corridor by large, loud women who throw their arms around me, call me by my first name and gush that their study abroad was "Just awesome!" But "Oh my God, I gained weight - 10kg!" Apart from the excessive tactility, I am happy to see them. In a country with a foreign-born population of less than 2 per cent, having returnee students is one of the few ways to bring foreign influence into the classroom.

Japanese and American class styles are so very different. As returnee students note in their essays: "In Japan, most classes are passive as the teacher is just talking"; "students are allowed to speak when the professor gives permission"; "most students don't raise their hand during a class even though they didn't understand"; "some people sleep, check their mobile phones, have a make-up and chat with their friends at class, sadly".

In Japan's hierarchical society, education is a given thing to be accepted without question or much enthusiasm. But in the US, our Japanese students gain a different experience of academia. One of them notes: "Students talk a lot in class. If they disagree with something even a teacher says, they say 'disagree'. Students are assessed by not only going to classes, but by saying opinions and talking. I thought that is (a) very nice way." Another writes: "It is obvious that more American students work harder than (the) majority (of) Japanese college students. …

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