Meet Sherrene at the University of Tokyo!
Name: Sherrene Chua
University: University of Tokyo
Degree: BA&Sc. Environmental Science (PEAK)
Current Year of Study: 2nd year
How did you choose your university destination and course of study?
I decided that I wanted to study something related to the environment before deciding on the institution, so I was searching for universities with environmental science courses. I chose the University of Tokyo because they provided an Environmental Science course in English, and also advertised smaller class sizes and flexibility in choosing classes and specialisations. Additionally, because the University of Tokyo is a public university, the tuition costs for local and international students are the same, so it ends up being much lower than going to some other destinations as an international student.
Outside of the course, I was also very interested in Japanese culture and language before coming to Japan, and I thought living in Japan for a few years would be a great way to experience something new and learn a new language.
What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?
The small class sizes, and the liberal arts style in the first two years. My classes are max 40 people and minimum 5-6 people, which gives us a lot of time to talk to the professors and to have more discussion with classmates. We can get to know both the professors and other classmates throughout the semester. I am also able to take a variety of classes, not only those related to my major. I’ve taken classes related to literature, law and governance, anthropology, and Japanese in addition to science classes.
Students also have access to short programs/international events during summer and winter breaks, so I was able to join a few. One of my favourites was a nice Hokkaido Summer program focused on the archaeology and history of Hokkaido this past summer, where I met new Japanese and international students.
What do you enjoy most about living in Tokyo?
I’m surrounded by great food and a lot of the things that I enjoy. There are a lot of things to see and do, from temples to shopping malls and many activities. People who enjoy cities and being around lots and lots of people are sure to like it. I find the walking quite different from where I lived previously, but I have learned to enjoy the walks around some parts of the city (on the way to my part time job, or to the nearby park, or just taking a stroll). Tokyo is considered a very safe city and I haven’t had any problems with walking around by myself so far.
How supportive is your university to international students?
In terms of supporting online classes during the pandemic, the university did quite well. They provided classes in a hybrid format for the period of time when students were still making their way into Japan. The university explains how to register for courses during the orientation in the beginning of the year as well, but some of the details are harder to find. I found that asking other students in the year above me was the fastest and most effective way to find out accurate information.
The University also has an international student and globalisation office that provides other services: giving advice about living in Tokyo, academic tutoring, international student events, and so on.
What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university so far?
- The most prominent is definitely the language barrier. Most people here speak very limited English, so some processes which would normally not be difficult are quite challenging due to the language barrier. For example, opening a bank account and filling out forms concerning your residence have to be done in Japanese, so having an assistant from the university or a Japanese speaking friend is helpful. Most after school clubs (called ‘circles’ in Japan) are also in Japanese, so it is sometimes difficult to join without conversational level Japanese.
- Another challenge when I first moved to Japan is all the documents that I needed to register. Getting a sim card in Japan requires you to already have registered your address onto your residence card, which means making an appointment at your nearest ward office and filling out a residence form. Other important things like opening a bank account or getting your student commuter pass is also quite a long process, especially if you don’t speak Japanese.
- One thing that I found a little bit difficult to adjust to after moving to Tokyo from Bali is the price of fresh produce. Fresh fruits and vegetables here are generally more expensive than buying some meats, and coming from Bali this was quite unusual. I had to find out when my local supermarket had discounts for fresh produce and time my shopping trips accordingly.
What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?
I am currently in a volleyball ‘circle’ (after school club), and I also help out with gardening in the community garden on campus. Usually these clubs are active more than once a week, but I am free to join whenever I’m available.
Other than after school activities on campus, I also got a part time job tutoring English and Maths at a nearby language school.
How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?
It is quite easy to find accommodation in Tokyo because there are so many options. One of the most straightforward are the student dorms provided by the university. Other options include shared housing, rental apartments, and even host families. Usually student dorms are cheaper and closer to campus than other accommodation like private apartments, but in my case the student dorms that the University assigned to my year of international students were quite expensive. Because of this, I decided to find my own accommodation nearer to campus.
I am currently staying at a shared house, which means that I have my own room in the house and I share the kitchen and bathrooms with a few other people (6 other girls in my case). I pay rent and a shared facilities fee every month which covers all the basic utilities like electricity, water, as well as internet.
If you are considering accommodation other than the student dormitories, they will usually require you to have a residence card. This means that your options are limited if you are still outside of Japan. After you enter Japan and receive your residence card, there are many more options and most of the application processes are quite simple. However, note that most apartments come unfurnished so you will have to find or purchase all the furniture yourself.
Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working world and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?
Because I am only in the second year of university, I have not personally made use of any career counselling facilities yet. However, I do know that the university does offer career counselling and internship opportunities for undergraduate students. For careers and finding a job, the name of Tokyo University is extremely well received within Japan, but I don’t think it carries the same degree of prestige outside Japan.
Internships that are advertised in the University are usually with large Japanese companies operating within Japan or internationally. For international internships, English is highly valued, but for internships within Japan in Japanese companies usually a business level of Japanese is required. For me, a lot of the alumni/upper year students are actually a good source of finding internship opportunities, since they can recommend you to the companies that they are working in.
What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?
There are many opportunities to travel within and outside of Tokyo during weekends and vacation because of how extensive the public transport and train systems are. I’ve gone on day trips to neighbouring areas like Kawagoe and Yokohama (which take around 1-1.5 hours by train), and even to an area near Mt Fuji (about 2 hours by bus). On weekends or longer holidays it is quite easy to arrange a trip to popular destinations like Kyoto, Osaka, and more. It is quite easy to find accommodation in Japan using AirBnB or Booking.com, so there are usually no problems with booking a place to stay. It can however get quite expensive when travelling, so I usually travel maybe twice a month.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to Tokyo and Japan to study?
- Brush up or learn some Japanese, daily life more or less requires the language!
- Look for scholarships, a lot of universities are offering them to international students.
- Be ready to be in a lot of new and unfamiliar situations. They can be scary and uncomfortable sometimes, but you have to try new things to find some unforgettable experiences.
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