At Sophia University, in addition to a Japanese language course, CIEE students take classes in the Faculty of Liberal Arts (FLA). This faculty offers its classes in English. The classes are a mix of degree seeking and non-degree seeking international students, Japanese students that were raised abroad, and Japanese students that have never lived abroad but have very high English ability. With such a mix of students, I have found my FLA classes to be incredibly diverse, more so than my university in America.
This semester in FLA I took an intermediate Japanese class, Comparative Politics of Post-Communist States, Anthropology of Japan, and East Asian Media Flows. In every single class I found myself interacting with people from all over the world with very different perspectives and experiences than I have. Being able to hear different opinions and worldviews has been the best part of my academic experience here this semester. It has been both challenging and rewarding, and I think it is one of the best parts of studying abroad here at Sophia University.
For example, my Comparative Politics of Post-Communist States class is a discussion-based class with a grand total of seven students. Three of us are Americans; there’s one Mongolian, one Japanese, one Mexican, and one Russian. In a class about Communist politics, talking with my Russian classmate – who has firsthand experience of Russia today and of the last few years of the Soviet Union – has been more interesting and more informative than any textbook. Mongolia was also a former Soviet country, and so having the Mongolian perspective also adds to a more personal connection between our class and the countries we’re studying. Moreover, the perspectives of how the world works and how international relations ought to be handled are completely different between my classmates at my university in America and my classmates here at Sophia. While my classmates in America always had their own opinions, their life experience was much more similar to mine; we were raised with similar educations, and so our worldview was more similar than different. Here in Japan, however, my classmates have vastly different educational and life experiences than what I have had. I have learned so much from my classmates in Japan. Although we sometimes disagree, we also have a lot in common, and we have all become good friends.
Being in FLA has challenged me to question the assumptions upon which I base my view of the world. It has also challenged me to reexamine what it means to be an American in a foreign country. Through the perspectives of my classmates, I have learned to view my identity as an American from less of a privileged perspective and more from a sense of responsibility. Yet, more than that, being in FLA has taught me to appreciate the views from people all around the world. With classmates from Japan, Hong Kong, Hungary, Mexico, Russia, Germany, France, Taiwan, Belgium, Britain, Mongolia, and many other places, the classes in the FLA have given me an opportunity to learn about countries all over the world. It has also given me the opportunity to grow and learn in a global context, getting to know individuals that are all unique and all united by the experience of being in Japan. While I came to Japan to learn Japanese and to see the Japanese way of thinking – and I have been able to do so – I am glad to have encountered many other perspectives as well at Sophia University.