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International Oasis - Tohoku University's Wonderwall

At the top of Kawauchi campus, in the new Multidisciplinary Research Building a short walk from the main library, sits an International Oasis for students.

Officially opened last October, the 50 square meter multi-purpose facility is jointly run by Tohoku University's four departments of social sciences - Arts and Letters, Economics, Education and Law.

It includes a built-in room for tea ceremonies, multimedia equipment and musical instruments that students can use free of charge. The aim is to provide a space where local and international students can get together and learn more about each other's cultures through shared activities.

Svetoslav Georgiev is the International Oasis' programme coordinator. "We are open to all students from any department," he says. "We want students to come and get involved in existing activities, or propose a new idea that we can help implement. For example, if you want to start a circle and use our space, we'll block out a time every week for you. If you have a one-time activity, that's even easier to arrange."

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The International Oasis has its roots in a small room tucked away on the 10th floor of the Economics building. It was originally set up a couple of years ago to give students a casual space to meet and relax.

Yulduzhon Babajanova, an economics graduate student from Turkmenistan, says that while the old room was cozy, the appeal of the new International Oasis, is that it brings together students who may otherwise never have the chance to meet. "Before, you wouldn't bump into anyone from other faculties or know about their events. But now, they have brought the activities from all the different faculties into one place and opened the doors to everyone."

"One of our goals is to make this a place where all students can learn new things while having fun," says Georgiev. "But ultimately, we also want it to be a one-stop-shop for all types of support for both Japanese and international students."

Currently, the International Oasis offers support to students looking to study abroad, as well as to international students trying to get used to life in Sendai. It also provides career counselling for students looking for a job.

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Throughout the year, the International Oasis is involved in various education and development programmes such as the perennially popular Coffee Hour. For just 20yen per session, students can learn a new language with international student instructors. Since the university has a diverse community, a wide variety of languages are on offer, including English, Chinese, French, Korean and Japanese.

"I like the melting pot atmosphere at the Oasis," says Kiya Okhlopkova, a research student at the Department of Japanese Literature, who teaches Russian at Coffee Hour. "I like the people who work here and the people who come. They are those who aren't afraid of discovering a whole new world outside of Japan."

Babajanova, who is an active member of D-Project, the International Oasis' English language debate club, agrees. "D-project is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to share their opinions and it's amazing to see how some people gain confidence talking over time. You also get to hear many uncommon views and ideas from people of different nationalities."

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A recent expansion on Coffee Hour is a writing programme which aims to teach students the basics of writing in English. It is especially targeted at students who are going abroad. There is also a Japanese writing workshop, launched last November, for foreign students studying Japanese. The course is designed to help them with their thesis writing.

"In the beginning, the writing courses are about teaching students how to write. But if this becomes successful, the idea is to create a proper writing centre," says Georgiev.

For now the biggest challenge remains raising awareness of the facility, especially among local Japanese students.

"We are trying very hard to get Japanese students involved. A lot of Japanese students say they want to meet foreigners and talk to them. This is a great chance to do something together," says A Rong Na, a coordinator at the Division of International Education and Exchange.

She also runs the Project-based Learning (PBL) programme, and the Business Experience in Tohoku (BET) programme, both of which often hold workshops at the International Oasis. "It's great to have a room big enough to accommodate 20, 30 students. And the foreign exchange students always enjoy the chance to use the traditional Japanese tea room."

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"It's a facility that really helps foreign students adjust to life in japan, and helps Japanese students get out of their comfort zone, " says Okhlopkova. "A lot of the people I have met here have become good friends."

The International Oasis is open from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Friday all through the year.

Contact:

International Oasis
Multidisciplinary Research Building, Room 106, Kawauchi South Campus,
Tohoku University
Tel: +81-22-795-3270
Email: international-oasisecon.tohoku.ac.jp

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