For students studying abroad, the benefits are obvious - exposure to a new culture, the chance to make new friends and experience a different way of life. At Tohoku University, some students on the International Program on Liberal Arts (IPLA) are using their time here to give a little something back.
The project is called Global Café, a series of informal lessons in which international students teach the basics of their native language to local Japanese students. The sessions are held every weekday above the main library at Kawauchi campus.
"Some of the languages we offer are not easily available or affordable to students elsewhere," says Rei Suzuki, one of the student organisers of Global Café. "For example, many Tohoku University students go to Sweden on exchange programmes, but learning Swedish on their own is very hard. So Global Café gives them a chance to practice speaking with a native Swedish student and get some local knowledge as well."
In addition to Swedish, eight other languages are being offered by the Global Café this semester, including English, German, Vietnamese and Indonesian. The sessions are free and open to anyone who's interested.
"I was in Chicago for two semesters and I don't want to stop using English, so I join this group every week to practice," says Yuta Ichikawa, an engineering student who hopes to land a job with a foreign company after graduation. "I think this is a good way to make friends and interact with people who also have an interest in going abroad."
Kanae Kudo, a literature student, had spent two weeks in California before starting university. "It was a really great experience and I now want to do a longer study abroad programme. So I'm trying to prepare myself by improving my English and talking to American students studying here."
Global Cafe, now in its 3rd year, has always been as much about cultural exchange as it is about learning a new language.
"It's very satisfying for me to be able to share information about my country and our lifestyle with my friends here," says Vetty Alfiarnika, an IPLA student who teaches the Indonesian class. "The questions I get are interesting too! Indonesia is a Muslim majority country and many people are curious about Islam, so I am also learning a lot about how Japanese people perceive my country and my culture."
Cayra DeGiulio, an Alaskan native who teaches English, agrees. "It's a very cool project because I get some teaching experience out of it, and I also get to share something about where I'm from. Many Japanese students want to study in America so I tell them what classes there are like, what living there is like. We talk - in English - about how daily things like hobbies and shopping might be different in our respective countries."
Global Café is organized by IPLANET, a student volunteer group initially set up to support IPLA students here at Tohoku University.
IPLANET comprises about a hundred Japanese students who help the foreign students navigate the complexities of daily life in Japan. In addition to the Global Café, the group also organises social dinners, cooking classes and field trips around Miyagi to encourage cross cultural interaction.
"The ultimate goal is to improve communication between Japanese students and international students. Especially getting Japanese students to be more interested in international things," says Suzuki. "Global Café is a good place to start. Whether you want to teach or learn, please get involved. Everyone is welcome!"
Contact:Student Exchange Division
Tel: +81-22-795-3775 or 3745