“When university students in Japan graduate and begin working, they are more likely to use English at work to speak with other Asians than with Europeans or Americans. The joint program that I would like to share with you today gives fellow Asian students the opportunity to learn together in English during their university years.”
As a member of the school committee, I gave the above speech at a 2011 faculty meeting after being contacted by the Catholic University of Korea (CUK) in regards to a joint course. In 2012, a Japan-Korea joint course began under the title of “Advanced Communication.” This half-term course is conducted in English and consists of three parts: 1) online classes taught by CUK faculty members, 2) a study tour to CUK during summer vacation, and 3) a visit to Japan by Korean professors in September for a study tour. The CUK has generously provided free lodging for students during their stay in Korea. Professor Shigenori Wakabayashi was in charge of the 1st year of the course, Professor Ryuichi Hotta supervised the 2nd year, and I was in charge of the 3rd year. While participating universities changed over the 3-year period, Chuo University participated in all 3 years. In April, interviews were held to select about 10 students who enrolled in the course. This year, there were 8 students who enrolled from Chuo University, ranging from 1st-year to 4th-year students at the Faculty of Letters and Faculty of Law. I would like to draw upon my personal experience to report on what we acheived in the final year of the program.
After morning classes on the second day, students and TAs visited Times Square, a modern shopping mall in Seoul. Before leaving, students were encouraged by Professor Kim to actively ask questions about Korean sales methods and consumer behavior, and also finding answers themselves. The subway ride was accompanied by students enjoying active conversations. One Chuo student who had just begun learning Chinese tried out his language skills with a Taiwanese student, while another Chuo student surprised a TA by conversing in fluent Korean.
Although similar shopping malls could be found anywhere in the world, careful observation revealed unique Korean aspects. We experienced Korea’s “ppalippali culture” (literally, hurry-hurry culture) when food was served immediately at the food court. Students were impressed when they saw an elderly gentleman dressed in ethnic clothing sitting on a bench and using a smartphone. Other students asked salespeople about the garish necktie patterns preferred in Korea.
In the morning of the third day, we visited Tongin Market near the Blue House. Tongin Market is a revitalized shopping area commissioned by the government. We carried a plastic lunchbox and special coins to buy different foods at each stall. We had rice and soup at a stall named Dosirak Cafe (Lunch Box Cafe).
I returned to Japan in the middle of the program, so my experiences with students were limited to the above. Afterwards, students visited Myeongdong, Wangjang Market, Insadong, a Samsung showroom, and ordinary Korean households. After giving group presentations based on their market observations, students said their reluctant goodbyes at a farewell party. Although almost all Chuo students returned to Japan on August 14th, one student decided to stay at the home of a Korean friend that he met during his short-term foreign study program in Hawaii during spring vacation. When Gwangbokjeol, known as the Independence Day of Korea (commemorating the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese rule upon Japan’s defeat in World War II) was held on August 15th, I felt a great surge of emotion while reflecting upon the Japan-Korea exchange in our program. I am happy to see the steady growth of the young generation which is unfettered by unfortunate history.
On the second day, the Korean professors held a lecture at Chuo's Tama Campus. The professors skillfully elicited questions and opinions from even the most reserved students. To wrap-up the lecture, they asked students to give their impressions of the course and to recommend improvements. Chuo students expressed their dissatisfaction that Korean students were late for scheduled meeting times. This was an example of cultural differences. Other students were disappointed at the absence of female TAs. While listening to students who gave opinions, I felt that they had grown significantly in their ability to speak confidently and clearly in English.
One of the feedbacks received by a TA was relayed by Professor Kim, who praised the strong independent spirit of Japanese students. “Since I was excited to take Japanese students around Seoul during nights and the weekend, I was shocked to find how Japanese students wanted to do things by themselves.”
Afterwards, we gathered at the cafeteria for a toast with cider which was sold to support the reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Students enjoyed their conversations and shokado lunchboxes. I spoke about the blooming Japanese clover that could be seen from the window, the Chuseok festival, and the harvest moon. Students were interested to learn about the significance of long-term overseas study, and Professor Lee responded by discussing his 10 years of foreign study. Students listened attentively while Professor Lee noted that reading books and training in logical writing are even more important than practicing English conversation. Additionally, both Korean professors discussed the importance of exchange among the youth and how cooperation between the 3 great Asian nations of Japan, China and Korea can contribute to world peace. In closing, faculty members gave a message that we are very proud of all of the participating students.
Both Professor Lee and Professor Kim obtained their PhDs while studying abroad in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. According to them, they still remember attending class in the U.S. and debating about Japan as a third power distinct from the West and Asia. Although it is debatable whether Japan is still a third power in today’s world, there is much to be learned from the unique and objective foreign perspective of Asia.
“I simply want to motivate students to take action on their own, even if it is just to go shopping.”—I will never forget these words spoken by Professor Kim. Chuo students are very serious. When joining market tours, they will refrain from buying the things they want. After their nervousness fades away, their hearts are opened to a different culture and they absorb so much. This, I believe, is true learning.
I’m sure that their encounter with the Korean professors will be a lifelong treasure for students. Thanks to the struggle of using English to reach a mutual understanding, the character and passionate teaching style of the two professors left an even deeper impression on the hearts of students. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the hard work of the professors during the 3-year program. In closing, I will introduce a stanza from the English translation of a Japanese tanka poem which I presented to the professors as a commemorative gift.
Come and look, dear students,
Before you worry about it;
Never be deceived by flickering words
About neighboring countries on the website.
I pray that there will be more exchange with Korean universities and more short-term/long-term overseas study in the future.
An essay written by Professor Ota about her visit to Seoul is currently posted on the homepage of Hokutousya Publishing (2014 Bulletin Board (Japanese)). Her poem is posted on the Facebook page of Professor Kim. Furthermore, a work on the Korean Peninsula and peace by Professor Ota is scheduled to be published in the October 6th issue of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in the Uta-wo-Yomu column (features tanka and haiku poems). Essays written by students describing their experiences are scheduled to be published in the PR journal Kusa-no-Midori and other media.