By Eve Bentley
When reflecting on our first 3 months at UTokyo in the PEAK program, despite feeling like we are thoroughly settled in, a multitude of questions still come to mind. What does the future truly hold for us twenty fresh-faced, international students? Our questions range over a vast array of topics, from course requirements, ‘living in Japan’ advice and general university enquiries, to the best kept secrets of places to relax, to study or simply to meet new people.
Hence, following the Japanese tradition as Kohai (underclassmen), we look to our Senpai(upperclassmen) for the advice and knowledge we crave. Misaki Hata, a third year Japan in East Asia Studies (JEA) student is half Japanese, half British and came to the PEAK program for a global outlook, a unique educational experience, and an opportunity to immerse herself in her Japanese heritage.
By choosing PEAK, she suggests that such a decision often in itself indicates a desire of moving oneself outside of the realm of comfort. When deciding to move, Misaki, like many of us, felt the weight of expectation and reality, that is, that like our peers we would probably go to the same university, in the same city, same language and same culture. Misaki says, faced with a somewhat predictable future, it is important to engage with a new part of yourself and take the risks and rewards that such an international program provides. Whether you are like Misaki and wish to engage in your Japanese heritage for potential future children, or simply to fulfil a specific interest, rewards are abundant.
As many international students and travelers worldwide would swear it is indisputable that, “Travel opens up the world to you,” says Misaki. She mentions that staying in one country your whole life is not unprofitable, but it is limiting in that your understanding of the world is generally second-hand. That said however, it is ultimately up to you to engage with the surroundings around you, to make the most of the opportunities offered.
Moreover PEAK, unlike most international programs due to its small size, comes with such a range of students from across the globe that not only do you develop strong bonds and friendships throughout classes, but your learning is a personal investment to your professors. An international community in such intensive classes allows for deep discussions revealing our multitude of perspectives, which reflect our cultural, religious, linguistic as well as moral assumptions and beliefs. Importantly, Misaki indicates that these ties to our foundational beliefs are what we should intrinsically follow, regardless of peers or external pressures.
When consulting with Misaki as to the future, she ultimately sees herself hopefully continuing to do “graduate studies in global communications,” probably in the UK. Her intention to move back is motivated by her belief that it is integrally important to “get many viewpoints, from many different educational systems.” In doing so, you not only promote cross-cultural exchange, but you directly immerse yourself in a new and often highly different environment from what you are previously accustomed to.
For us PEAK students, the program has moulded itself so that each student can individually choose their path, and moreover allows a foundation to be built with regards to knowledge of Japan’s place in the global environment. Misaki, is hence representative of the way PEAK has allowed for a development of ideas and thus a promotion of not only cultural exchange, but a serious interest in global communications and cultural significance. Recently, she developed a mini business with her friend, designing and selling bags. Whilst this currently engages here in interests outside of PEAK itself, this kind of innovation and entrepreneurship perhaps simultaneously indicates the beginning of future endeavours.
With this in mind, I know that whilst the future remains ultimately unknown, as a new PEAK student I can look forward to the multitude of opportunities, ideas, cultures and ultimately the completely new environment that PEAK will expose me to.
Eve Bentley is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.