By Kamiyu Hijikata
While the academic and social life within a university always varies from place to place, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger difference than between large Australian universities and PEAK’s small liberal arts program at the University of Tokyo. For good or for bad, within my first month in Todai I have noticed stark differences in the way that university life operates in these two very different countries. Despite the fact that I did not attend university in Australia due to taking a gap year, I was still exposed to university life through my friend’s experiences, in addition to my occasional visits to universities. Consequently, I became accustomed to the general routines my friends followed, including attending the lectures, tutorials and lab classes required for the 3-5 courses they undertook each semester. These perceptions of university life were quickly contrasted with PEAK upon my arrival. Reading through our course handbook, it was startling to realize that we would be required to take a minimum of 36 courses over the first three semesters, a far cry from the standard 12 courses my friends would be taking. But this was accompanied with a reminder that each course only has one 90-minute class conducted weekly, compared to multiple lectures and tutorials of varying lengths each week back at home. In addition, The University of Tokyo has five assigned periods each day, with a designated lunch break in the middle of the day. This is contrasted with classes in Sydney that follow no set timetable, as classes could be held at any hour of the day, even beyond the 9am – 6pm at Todai. To top it all off, our PEAK cohort consists of 20 students, a small group that would be studying and socializing together for the next four years.
It is interesting to note the good and bad traits intrinsic of the dichotomous university styles. Discussing with a friend back in Sydney, he pointed out how relaxed university life was for him, noting that he had freedom in how he arranged his timetable and how he could afford to skip lectures. In PEAK, however, the same personalisation of one’s timetable is impossible as each course is held in a predetermined time slot. He also noted that lecture attendance can often be in the hundreds, and with it being rare to have more than one class with a friend, he explained about having what he called “lecture buddies”, friends he hung with at each lecture, but nowhere else. The enormous class sizes are also a double-edged sword regarding the social aspect of university, as a greater number of classmates mean more people around, but simultaneously, it makes befriending new individuals in such a large presence a daunting task for all but the most gregarious and social individuals. Such an issue does not arise in the PEAK program, as each year’s cohort functions as a tight knit family. Class sizes are also very small, allowing for greater student-teacher interaction, and more in-depth intellectual discussions. Of course, these smaller classes also mean attendance at each and every class is a must, with a small portion of grades often assigned to student participation. Another noticeable matter is the structured daily timetable at Komaba, which, combined with the small classrooms we use, is reminiscent of high school learning, which is somewhat underwhelming compared to the more drastic change in environment and need for greater autonomy that my friends experienced moving into university.
On the flipside, PEAK’s similarity to high school is arguably a positive thing too, as it provides a less strenuous transition from high school to university for students who are already coping with settling into a new country. It is difficult to assign a superior label to either of the university systems, and I believe it comes down to a personal compatibility with each system. I have found myself settling in nicely in PEAK, as I find the structured and orderly timetable, along with a small, intimate cohort, works well with myself. In the end though, university life is always fast paced and exciting regardless of where you are, and I am excited for what lies ahead in the PEAK program.
Kamiyu Hijikata is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.