Fourteen students from Thailand were at Tohoku University last month, to participate in the Business Experience in Tohoku (BET) programme.
Over a fortnight, the students from Chulalongkorn University's Business School attended seminars and workshops to learn about Japan's economy and culture, all with the aim of better understanding the traditions behind the Japanese way of life and doing business.
"All the lectures were related to economics, management and business," said A Rong Na, International Programme Coordinator at the Faculty of Economics, and coordinator of the BET programme. "In addition to our own professors, we also invited some businessmen and women to present case studies and share their real world, real business experiences."
A unique feature of Sendai is its proximity to the coast and areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. As part of their study of post-disaster economic recovery, the students went to Akiu, a town famous for its hot springs, to learn more about its new winery business.
They also visited Zao and Yonezawa City to find out more about the business of traditional arts and craft.
"My favourite course was about earthquake recovery," said BET participant Pluemchanok Jirawudthikiat. "The earthquake happened five years ago, and I learnt on this programme that a lot of recovery work has been happening this whole time. People are still trying to rebuild their lives, but in Thailand, we don't hear about their on-going struggles."
Before coming to Japan, the Thai students prepared four themed projects which are relevant to both countries. Specifically - the taste testing and marketing of Thai drinks in Japan; Japanese attitudes towards intellectual property rights for music; the feasibility of more Thai food outlets in Japan; and making Japanese drugstores more bilingual and foreigner-friendly.
Through the project work, the Thai students had the chance to interact with members of the local community, with the help of some student volunteers from Tohoku University.
"Being a volunteer doesn't sound fun, but I really enjoyed myself!" said Masashi Dobashi, a 3rd year management student. "Whenever I saw the Thai students smile or laugh, I felt really motivated. I could see that they were having a good time in Japan and that made me proud and happy!"
"I invited my Japanese friends to help with the drinks testing project and they said they really enjoyed talking to the Thai students," said Yamato Suzuki, a 4th year education student. "It will be good if we can persuade more Japanese students to get involved in these types of international events, to meet other people and learn about other cultures."
Shota Matsuura, an alumnus of Tohoku University and one of the programme's organisers, said he couldn't agree more. "It's about broadening your perspectives, learning about other parts of the world and making new friends. A lot of Japanese people say they want to travel. By getting involved in international projects, they can make friends from around the world."
For a bit of cultural fun, the Thai students tried their hand at traditional Japanese arts such as calligraphy, flower arrangement, kendo and tea making. For some students, the experience was a bit of a dream come true. "I read a lot of manga and anime so there are many things that I know about but have never tried. Like I know what 'sado' is but until now I had never experienced making the tea or eating the sweets. So that was a really, really cool workshop!" said BET participant Naranpat Thitipattakul.
"Japanese students attend lectures, they do projects and take part in club activities. Many also have hobbies. I want the foreign exchange students who come here to experience a little of this kind of normal student life too," said A Rong Na.
The BET programme will bring more students from Malaysia and Thailand to Tohoku University later this year. And there is hope that the programme will expand in the near future to include participants from even more diverse cities such as Hong Kong, London and New York.
"A programme like this is a wonderful opportunity to learn something new," said Pluemchanok Jirawudthikiat. "Even if you think you know everything about japan, you will still find something that you had never known before!"
For enquiries about the BET programme:Division of International Education and Exchange,
Graduate School of Economics and Management
For enquiries about this article:Tohoku University International PR Section