Friday, September 27, 2013

My Life Studying Abroad

Zheng Min
   Hometown: Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China
   Kochi University Graduate School Exchange Student

   Two years ago I was blessed with good fortune and was able to spend one year abroad as a foreign exchange student at Kochi University. I would take Japanese classes, go to parties with other exchange students, spend my summer and winter breaks traveling, going on camps / retreats, and I even did a home stay. Those were stress-free, fun-filled days. After a year back in my home country, I decided to enter Kochi University Graduate School with the expectation that I would be able to repeat the fun days I had in the past.

   However, life as a full-fledged foreign student as opposed to an exchange student turned out to be completely different. In my new research-centric life, it became the norm to collect academic literature, read background research papers one by one, and prepare several long reports a week on my own, all under the guidance of my professors. My easy-going days had disappeared. During this time, I read a troubling story from a friend on Facebook. It appeared that she wasn’t being taken seriously as a competent worker at her part job because she was a foreign exchange student. It seems that even for short-term exchange students things can’t be fun all the time.

   One evening around 9:00pm I was talking on LINE with a Japanese friend who is also a graduate student, and when I told her how much I was studying at the school lab, she was extremely surprised. The puzzled look on her face said to me, “Why are you staying up so late to study as an exchange student?” I don’t really mind staying up late to study. What’s odd is that staying up late to watch T.V. or go out for fun is thought of as normal while studying as an exchange student is thought of as strange. Sometime later, on yet another day, right after a research meeting had ended, that graduate student insistently told me her feelings about studying in the lab late at night. For me, it makes perfect sense that students are supposed to study. I think what is odd is deciding when, where, and how who is supposed to study what.

   I hear that the number of exchange students in Japan is steadily rising due to the Japanese Government’s “300,000 Foreign Students Plan”. However, even if the number of students increases, I don’t want those students to be given special treatment based on the notion that “exchange students are supposed to have fun and don’t need to study very hard”. For someone like me, who firmly believes that putting a lot of effort into academics is natural, I think that, conversely, wasting away your precious college years means that you’ll never be again able to return to campus to learn. In this age, I think that whether Japanese or foreign, students should utilize their time and resources to expand their knowledge.

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