By RongXuan Tan
Ever been to the KOMCEE basement and seen a big group of students – both Japanese and international – hanging out outside the Globalisation Office (GO Office) and seemingly having a great time together? These students are a mix of GO tutors, other University of Tokyo students, and exchange students.
For international students – be they PEAK students or exchange students – one of the first groups of people they get to know and become close to are the GO tutors. GO tutors are regular University of Tokyo students, and usually, a few GO tutors at a time can be found at the tables right outside the Globalisation Office during and after lunch break. As the name suggests, GO tutors provide assistance in school work, but they also try their best to help those who are having trouble in other matters, such as in administrative matters pertaining to school or living in Japan in general.
Jennifer Ieong, a 1st-year PEAK student, visits the GO lounge at least four times a week and has had close interactions with the GO tutors. GO tutors mostly help her by looking over and correcting her assignments for Japanese classes but beyond that, she has also become friends with several of them. In fact, just recently, she went for a karaoke session with some of them and had a very good time. “GO tutors are very friendly”, she enthused.
There are around 20 GO tutors in total, and their main role is to be the bridge between foreign and Japanese students and assisting international students in settling down and fitting into Japan, especially those who are not fluent in Japanese and require some help. “Even in Komaba, there is a big international student bubble that is difficult to penetrate into and out of, and GO tutors try to facilitate interaction for international students to know more about Japanese students and vice versa”, explains Bryan Kuek, a 4th-year PEAK student who has been a GO tutor since 2013.
The name ‘GO tutor’ might cause some students to think that the particular area in the GO lounge is reserved for tutors and those in need of tutoring, but Bryan assures that anybody is welcome to drop by. School work is just one small part of it; there are those who go there for help in school work, but there are also those who drop by to ask miscellaneous questions about life in Japan, and some who just want to chat. As a frequenter of the GO tutors’ table myself, I can safely say that although many of us do our homework there, at the same time, we talk to each other, and soon become friends.
The Selection Process
Selection of new GO tutors has just ended, and those who frequent the GO lounge and the GO tutors’ table would have realised that there are five more tutors. How are these five selected?
Twice a year at the beginning of each semester, the GO Office calls for applications, requiring applicants to submit their CV, academic results, and an essay (usually asking about the applicant’s intercultural experience and what they have learnt). Applicants’ academic results and essays are then perused, and candidates are shortlisted . In the second round, interviews are conducted to select the students who will ultimately become GO tutors. Every semester, around 3 to 6 students are selected, depending on how many tutors left to go abroad on exchange programs or graduated.
Generally, the GO Office looks for students who will fit with current tutors, are helpful, willing to communicate, and friendly with international students. According to Mariko Osawa, lecturer at the Globalisation Office and one of the people in charge of GO tutors, there are students who wish to become a tutor to improve their English through interaction with international student. However, “that is not a good attitude” she says. “The priority should be on helping international students and not how you can benefit from it”.
Compared to just two or three years ago, it is now much easier to find tutors. The GO tutor program started merely three years ago, and at the beginning, nobody knew about it. As such, the GO Office had difficulty finding tutors, having to rely on students who had returned from exchange programs abroad. Now, the problem is finding good tutors, especially for mathematics and science. “It is difficult to find students who are good in the sciences and are also able to speak English fluently”, says Professor Osawa. “Many of those who can speak English fluently are from the Humanities side”.
For those interested in being a GO tutor, Professor Osawa has some advice. The first thing to do would be to improve one’s English, especially for those who might not be so fluent in the language. In addition, it would be helpful to take part in events organised by the GO Office and actually interact with international students before applying.
Yusuke Sakurai, project lecturer and another person-in-charge of GO tutors, would also like to encourage those who were not chosen to be GO tutors previously to not be discouraged and reapply during the next round. GO tutors are also selected based on what the tutoring system needs, and for the recently concluded selection, the GO Office were looking for students majoring in the sciences. As such, although the GO Office received many excellent applications from students in the Arts stream, they had to turn them away. “It’s just bad luck”, says Professor Sakurai. “Next time it might be the other way round, so for students who failed this time, please try again”.
Being a GO tutor
One of the main worries students who wish to become GO tutors have is not being able to cope with the added commitment of being a GO tutor. However, Bryan assures that trying to juggle GO tutor duties and school work is not as difficult as one might think, reason being the GO Office allows tutors to choose their work hours. “It really depends on how committed you want to be more than anything”, he says.
However, that is not to say being a GO tutor is all fun and games. After all, students do approach GO tutors for help, and GO tutors have to be equipped to help them. As such, tutors have to figure out how best to help and adapt to what other students need. Bryan mentions how due to changes in the PEAK mathematics syllabus recently, there were topics he did not cover previously, and he therefore had to self-study so that he can assist those who ask him for help in mathematics.
Despite these challenges, or maybe even because of them, being a GO tutor can be a very fulfilling job. When Bryan successfully helps a student, he feels a sense of satisfaction. The fact that “the job itself is fun, and the overall atmosphere is very lively” also adds to the perks of the job.
Bryan hopes that more students will visit the GO tutors’ table. “It doesn’t have to be for work, just hanging out to chat is fine”. Next time you’re in the GO lounge, do drop by to say hi!