Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Opening Ceremony

Today was Host University's opening ceremony for the semester. I'm learning that such ceremonies are usual here in Japan. New students come to campus all dressed in dark suits, with parents (also pretty much in dark suits), to attend a welcoming ceremony.

My undergrad university basically had a "drop your kid off at the dorm" day, and that was that. There were a few days of dorm-based orientation, and then classes started. That's how my home university does it, too.

I taught for a while at Cornfield College, an private SLAC in the midwest, and there we had a matriculation day. New students moved into the dorms in the morning. In the early afternoon (under the hot blazing sun in our regalia), we had a shortish ceremony where mostly the president welcomed new students, thanked the parents for preparing them, and invited everyone to the campus picnic. And then there was a big campus picnic, food for all. Faculty who were teaching the first year special program class ate with their class, if I recall. Then the parents went home, the faculty went to drink on someone's porch, and the students disappeared into the dormitories.

Host University basically runs two school calendars, one a traditional Japanese calendar starting in early April with a big break from January to April, and the second a western style calendar (mostly for international students) starting in August and with the big break from May to August. Some Japanese students, mostly the more advanced, join the western style calendar and take classes with international students as they prepare to go study abroad. That means they probably totally miss a break somewhere along the line. So while campus has seemed reasonably populated, it will be fully populated starting at the end of this week.

But the campus has a different feel than most campuses I've been at, mostly because students don't live on campus. There are a couple of off-campus housing facilities for mostly international students (some of whom also live with host families), but Japanese students by and large live off campus. Unlike in US college towns I know, students don't seem to live in areas close to campus, nor, they tell me, do they tend to share apartments. (Though apartments here tend to be pretty darned small, so I can see not wanting to share.) Lots of students commute a couple hours a day, and live at home. Most also work (as do most of my students in the US).

That means that campus feels less like the center of a real community to me here than at home. (My not speaking Japanese probably also contributes to my sense of things.)

In contrast, faculty here live on campus in large numbers, but that doesn't give me much sense of community so far. (Perhaps because large numbers of faculty teach on the Japanese semester, and so have been off on vacation or break?)

Today's opening ceremony involved several speeches, including two given by current students, one in English, the other in Spanish. I was impressed, not only by the language skills, but that the students had helpful things to say about their experiences here. The message was clear: if you're here and you study hard, you'll come out the other end speaking a foreign language well and probably having studied abroad. That fits the international focus of the university; it's why students come here. (And it's why my students seem so much more motivated than the stereotypes of Japanese college students led me to expect; they especially want to do well because they want to go study abroad.)

It's exciting to think of all the new students across the country starting college now.

Good luck, new students! Study hard, learn lots, and do better things than my generation has!