Every July heralds the end of a term and the start of the special programmes season, undoubtedly one of the highlights of summer at Tohoku University.
This year, the Global Learning Center's Japanese Programme (TUJP) - aimed at foreign undergraduates who want to learn more about Japan's language and culture - attracted a record number of applicants. More than 200 students from partner universities around the world applied for the 50 available spots in the fortnight-long programme.
Participants attended daily Japanese language classes with the aim of learning situational conversations. They were divided into small classes based on their proficiency levels, and given opportunities to practice through interactive projects with Japanese students and members of the local community. For a candid taste of Japanese home life, each student also spent a weekend living with a host family.
"Our program tries to put the participants into real Japanese society so that they can learn through their own experiences," said Assistant Professor Kaori Shimasaki from the Global Learning Center. "For example, the students learnt in class how to order food at a restaurant and then actually went to a restaurant and ordered food in Japanese."
The students said they were encouraged to practice their Japanese skills because the local people they encountered were friendly. "Japanese people are really nice," said American student Vincent Ta. "Everyone talks to us, and the people who sat next to us at the restaurant even gave us advice on where to go in Sendai!"
Claire Lee, a psychology student from Korea, said that she came on the programme to get a better understanding of Japan, after years of reading and hearing about political tensions between the two countries.
"I'd been told by many people in Korea to think a certain way about Japan. I wanted to form my own opinions. Being here and getting to know people really helped to change my point of view. Meeting individual Japanese people helped me to see that people everywhere are the same," said Lee.
In addition to Japanese language classes, the foreign students also attended workshops on traditional Japanese arts such as calligraphy, flower arrangement, drumming and aikido.
"I had done martial arts before, so doing aikido was like returning to something familiar," said Alexey Verevkin, a physics student from Russia's Novosibirsk State University. "But, it was also different. In Russia, martial arts is like a sport. Here in Japan, it's not just a sport it's a philosophy."
Physics Professor Ying Chen, who has taught the summer programme's flower arrangement class three times, praised the students for their creativity. "Even though they learnt the rules, they were not too concerned by them, so some of their work was very interesting. I was surprised!"
"Flower arrangement was my favourite class by far," said Ta, who studies economics at UC Riverside. "I really like flowers. I've been interested in Japanese flower arrangement for a long time, but it's something that I've been too afraid to tackle. Now that I've tried it, I really want to do it again."
For students considering a future career in Japan, some courses offered valuable insight into Japanese business and corporate culture, politics and healthcare.
"All the courses, even the serious ones, have been really fun and educational. I feel encouraged to come back to Japan again by myself," said Samuel Tsao, an American computer science student.
Australian Emily Nugent agreed. "The best thing about these two weeks was the people. The fact that we're all different nationalities and have different personalities, I think we brought different things to the programme. I've made new friends not just from Japan but from other countries as well, and that's been really fun."
The Global Learning Center says it hopes students who visit in the summer will keep Sendai and Tohoku University in their future plans. "We hope they will see that we have a lot to offer, and they come back as future exchange students or postgraduate students. We'd like to see them again."
For information about the programme:Tohoku University Global Learning Center
41 Kawauchi, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi 980-8576, Japan
For enquiries about this article:Tohoku University International PR Section