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Study-abroad significance felt in face of adversity for Japanese students

  • September 8, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 12:36 p.m.
  • English Press

Many Japanese students were studying abroad when the coronavirus pandemic began. Some continued their studies while others returned to Japan to take online classes. The pandemic helped students understand anew the significance of studying abroad.


Kazuki Odate, 23, a senior at Shibaura Institute of Technology, is studying at the University of Twente in the Netherlands for a year from March this year while doing an internship there. He continues to work there as a member of an organization at the university that promotes human resource development in the field of science and technology by helping to better education for students at elementary, junior high and high schools.


Initially, the coronavirus was not prevalent there, and he went about his life as usual. However, within a month he began to work from home, and Japanese students around him began to return home. He felt at a loss about whether he should stay or go home.


His parents wanted him to remain in the Netherlands as he could possibly infect his grandparents, who live with them at home in Japan. After consulting with his institute in Japan, he decided it would be safer to stay. He has continued his studies there.


For two months from late March, restaurants and elementary schools were closed and public transportation was not available in the Netherlands. However, since June, schools have reopened and things are gradually returning to normal. Although he had planned to visit schools to observe classes and talk to university officials, he has not been able to visit schools since March. Studying is now mainly online, calling into question the point of having left Japan in the first place.


However, “I was able to work with students in the Netherlands and come into contact with a variety of values and ideas,” Odate said.


He found being away from Japan helped him learn that Japan’s education system has fallen behind in digitalization.


“If I had stayed in Japan, I wouldn’t have noticed it,” he said. “Going abroad has great value.”


“If the students living in our dorms saw each other in person, talk would naturally follow,” said Nanase Hayami, 21, a third-year student at Bowdoin College in the United States. “Campus life was all such a great learning experience for me,” She is temporarily in Japan now.


In March of this year, while returning to Japan for spring break, a curfew began in the U.S. due to the spread of the infection. The university also closed its campus. As the university has switched all of its classes to online, she is taking classes at home in Tokyo instead of going back to the U.S.


The 13-hour time difference from Japan forced her to begin a unique life in which she took online classes from midnight to about 4 a.m., slept for about six hours and then did her homework and prep work.


“We could barely sense each other’s emotions and gestures in a video conference,” she said. “There was also a huge difference in the level of teaching among professors.”


Living in a reverse day and night was hard for her. In May, she switched to watching recorded classes, but she was no longer able to ask questions or participate in discussions.


“I was in America because I didn’t want to be in a passive class,” she said. “I wonder what I’m doing.”


This summer, she participated in an online version of the Japan-America Student Conference as part of a group of college students selected from Japan and the United States. She proactively tackled things that she would be too busy to do if she were in the United States.


“Studying abroad is not only about classes, but also about life there,” she said. “There are a lot of things I could learn about while being there, and grow from there.”


Away from the U.S., Hayami has especially felt that sentiment now.

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