But there is no escaping the fact that classes and homework are a part of daily life while on exchange. And although I would rather spend my days visiting temples, castles and Sailor Moon cafes, university life in Japan still has its interesting points, and says something about Japan's education system.
At first I was worried university would be really difficult and strict here, because classes go for an hour and a half (as opposed to 50 minutes back home), and there are even classes on Saturdays. Then I got my timetable, and realised it wasn't going to be so bad after all. I have class Monday to Thursday, with just one class on Monday, and two on all the other days. You only need 7 credits (5 classes) to maintain your exchange student visa status, so I'm just doing the bare minimum.
I'm taking two advanced Japanese language classes - oral communication and literacy. The way these classes are taught is so different to the way I was taught Japanese back home. For one thing, instead of computers and PowerPoint, they still use blackboards and chalk here - in the land of electronics and gadgets, that was a big surprise. Also, there's a huge emphasis on rote learning. Every week we get tested on kanji and vocabulary that we're probably never going to use again (at least, I hope I'm not going to need to use 'cerebral apoplexy' again...). It all seems aimed at teaching us how to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which I'm not a big fan of. I just don't see how cramming a lot of pointless vocab measures proficiency.
|Writing kanji over and over and over again...|
The content of the lessons is always sort of strange, too. In Japanese class back home, our lecturer would always try and make each lesson topical and relevant, by teaching us about current issues in Japanese society. In Japanese class here, one of our reading topics was, 'are dolphins smart?' Hm.
|Are dolphins smart? Am I smart enough to be learning about dolphins?|
In addition to Japanese, I have 3 culture classes, which are taught in English (Politics, History, and Geisha culture) and are designed especially for exchange students. Again, the expectations for these classes don't seem to be that high. We have to do a presentation and a revision quiz for History, a presentation, 1500 word essay, and final exam for Politics, and just one final exam for Geisha culture.
Overall I think that university classes here are quite old fashioned in teaching style, and (dare I say?) much easier than back home. I think Japanese education puts too much emphasis on tests and exams, and not enough on critical, creative and independent thinking. From what I've seen/read/heard, in Japan, the high school years are actually more stressful and difficult than university - the complete opposite to New Zealand. Students spend their whole high school lives preparing to sit university entrance exams, particularly those for Japan's most prestigious universities. But once you've gotten into university, you're safe. Grades don't seem to matter to employers so much; just the fact that you got into that university is enough. So for a lot of university students in Japan, these years are a time to party and have fun.
Oh yeah, this post is dedicated to Matt, who wanted to know how academia in Japan differs to NZ. You nerd, you. =P